Based in the south of England, Abri manages 35,000 homes for 80,000 residents.
To reach our final destination of net zero carbon by 2050 we first had to understand how much carbon our existing homes are producing. So we’ve assessed our homes and calculated the costs of retrofitting to make them more energy efficient.
But it’s not just our homes that need to be better for the environment. So we’re also assessing our vehicles, work places, the way we build homes and all aspects of our business to see which efficiencies can have the greatest impact for reducing our carbon emissions.
The importance of tackling climate change can’t be underestimated. We’re in a climate emergency and each one of us must play our part in protecting our planet. Our collective steps towards a healthier world are essential and the time for change needs to be now.
As our commitment to driving change, we recently appointed an interim Executive Director of Assets and Sustainability who will make sure we deliver on our roadmap to become net zero carbon as an organisation by 2050.
To make sure everyone across the organisation is aware of the work that needs to be done, we’ve created a roadmap of how we’re going to get there identifying each of the key milestones.
We’ve also established a Sustainability Steering Group made up of colleagues from different departments to look at different ways carbon emissions can be reduced in their different areas of the business. Members of the Sustainability Steering Group take an active role in developing operational targets that support our overarching carbon reductions and help to deliver change within their teams.
We’re also an early adopter of Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) reporting and started to benchmark and research appropriate and deliverable targets to reduce our impact as an organisation. We’re launching pilot retrofit projects on a selection of our homes and working with our customers, project managers, consultants and contractors to deliver these improvements. There are many new green alternatives for retrofitting coming to light and these pilot projects give us an opportunity to test their credentials and see what works best for our customers.
For our future builds, we’ve created an Abri Standard for new homes to ensure we deliver them as ‘zero carbon ready’.
We’re also founding members of the Greener Futures Partnership, teaming up with four other housing providers to improve the energy efficiency of 300,000 homes for more than 600,000 customers and creating new standards for sustainability across the sector.
To reach net zero carbon we know we need to develop a low carbon culture across Abri so we’ve partnered with the Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) who support us to deliver training to colleagues to better understand climate change, carbon footprints and how we can do our bit to help. Our colleagues are taking ownership of this and our very own Climate Champions deliver this training across Abri with the support of CLP. We’ve also introduced an app to help colleagues to make small but impactful changes to their carbon footprint.
In terms of engagement with customers, through our scrutiny panel, we’ve hosted a number of sustainability focus groups to understand customers’ thoughts and needs. We’re also about to embark on a programme of customer engagement – both with customers taking part in the retrofit pilots but also with our wider community to help them make small but meaningful changes to their everyday activities to reduce their individual carbon footprints.
Our community investment team has also been engaging our customers and communities in sustainable activities. The team has worked with regional initiatives to help set up community gardens and gardening clubs, enabling customers to grow fruit and vegetables, and enjoy wildlife and outdoor exercise.
With the social housing sector facing costs of between £13,000 to £25,000 to bring an energy inefficient home up to an EPC rating of C, the funding challenge facing our sector is significant.
As a sector, we also need to make sure that we engage with customers in the right ways and at the right times. We have a responsibility to educate on low carbon solutions and encourage customers to embrace new technology and lifestyle changes that deliver long term sustainable living. An expected challenge is that some customers may be cautious or reluctant to adapt, so it’s important to keep the conversation open, consulting with customers and understanding their views, preferences and concerns.
On the journey so far we’ve embraced an agile way of working, supporting colleagues to work remotely as desired, helping to reduce the carbon impact of commuting and promoting a healthier work-life balance.
In our workplaces, we’re continuing to make measurable changes. We’ve made significant CO2 savings over the past year from moving from black bin bags to Longopac bags, saving the equivalent of 23,061 plastic bottles (4.88 tCO2e) from May 2020 to April 2021. We’ve also adopted DocuSign to manage agreements electronically instead of processing printing documents. As of October 2021, this has made environmental savings equivalent to 3,467kg of wood, 85,190 litres of water, 8,138kg carbon, and 563kg of waste since the beginning of the year.
During a recent office redesign, office furniture was gifted to local community groups, repurposed or recycled. We’ve also replaced traditional lighting with lower energy LED alternatives, installed passive infrared (PIR) sensors (which use less energy compared with microwave sensors), and halved the wattage of our hand dryers. Recycling bins have been introduced throughout our workplaces, and single use pens have been replaced by refillable pens made from recycled materials. Colleagues have also been supplied with reusable coffee cups and water bottles.
Our IT team is in the process of merging two data centres into the cloud, generating greater economies of scale and significantly reducing emissions.
In our first stage of the Carbon Literacy Training programme we’ve had 25 colleagues that have passed and have received Carbon Literacy status so far.
Greater support is needed to help collaboration in the sector to drive cost benefits and increased supplier demand. The Greener Futures Partnership is an example of this but we need more across the sector. Now we have a definition of net zero for housing associations and a guide to decarbonisation from the NHF and the net zero strategy and heat and buildings strategy from the government, more needs to be done to communicate these to the public and stakeholders to increase climate literacy, buy-in and confidence in our ability to tackle the challenge ahead. Lastly, support to drive a better supply chain, as well as the construction and consultancy skills to deliver.